Authors: Dinah McLeod
“Shh, it’s okay,” he murmured, gently patting her back. “You’re alright. It’s just a sore bottom—it’ll heal, I promise.”
“It’s not that,” she whimpered into his chest. “I-I can’t believe I got you h-hurt! I am so sorry!”
“I know, darlin’. Now don’t mention it again. Your slate’s been wiped clean.” She cried quietly for a few minutes and Colton held her, inhaling her strangely intoxicating feminine scent. It had been a long time since he’d held a woman like this, too. He was surprised by how much he liked it. He never lacked for female company, but there was something about Scarlett that was different. There was a softness to her, a vulnerability that had nothing at all to do with her tears.
Give it up, man,
he thought, shaking his head.
You’ve known her for all of two seconds. You’re going to let her go now and that will be the end of it.
Trouble was, he didn’t want to let go.
Just then, Scarlett pulled away from him, sniffling and smiling up at him shyly. “Sorry. I got your shirt all wet.”
“Oh, well.” He shrugged a shoulder as he looked down at his white tee. “I ‘spect it’s no worse for the wear.”
“Are there people looking at me?”
Colton glanced around to see that they had indeed attracted a little crowd of people that had clearly stopped to see the show. For some reason, though, he couldn’t bear to tell her. “Everyone’s tired, darlin’. They’re goin’ home.”
“Okay,” she said, exhaling shakily. “That’s good then.”
“Well… it was, uh… nice meeting you. I think.”
“Yeah,” Colton laughed. “I think so, too. Stay safe.”
He backed away and watched as Scarlett got into her car. He stood in the same place as she started her car, giving him a little wave before she drove away. He lingered for a moment longer, looking at the spot her car had occupied and wondering why he wasn’t off to the nearest bar having a celebratory Scotch.
“Who was that?”
He started when he realized his brother was at his elbow. “Hell, where’d you come from, Jas?”
“I was staying scarce until the lady left. I didn’t want to embarrass her by lettin’ her know I saw her get her tail tanned. I’m a gentleman that way.”
“Oh, yeah,” he snorted. “You’re a regular Casanova.”
“We’re not talking about me. What’s her name?”
“She’s a cute little thing.”
“Yeah, I reckon. If you go for that type.”
“What kind of type is that?” Jason asked.
“You know,” he shrugged.
he answered silently. “She’s young. Naïve.”
“Huh. Wasn’t the word I would have used. How’s the shoulder, bro?”
He winced, mention of his injury bringing the pain to the forefront of his mind. “Remind me not to get clobbered by a horse again anytime soon.”
“Can do. I don’t reckon handin’ out whippins’ helps any.”
“Yeah, well.” The sting in his palm was one that he could definitely live with. “It was worth it.”
“Give it up, bro! She’s too young for you!”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m too old for the rodeo, too old for her now, too, huh? Is this your not-so-subtle way of tryin’ to tell me something, Jas?”
“Nah, you know I don’t do subtle very well.” He slapped Colton on the back, grinning when his brother grimaced. “So, whatcha think, drink or doctor first?”
“Drink,” Colton answered without hesitation. “I need a good, stiff one, I think.”
“Go away!” Colton groaned as loud banging on his door woke him up. He turned over and tried to bury his head under his pillow, but whoever was on the other end of the door was quite persistent. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he hauled himself to his feet. “I’m comin’!” he hollered begrudgingly. It was a damn shame—he’d been in a coma-like sleep that practically had him drooling on his pillow. He hadn’t slept that good since God knew when and he was sorry to leave it. Especially since his shoulder didn’t hurt near as bad when he was knocked unconscious.
“What?” he demanded as he threw open the door. To his surprise, he saw little Scarlett from the night before on his stairs, her arms laden with paper bags.
“Hello,” she replied, looking a tad bit frightened by his less than friendly demeanor.
Which, of course, immediately made him feel like a jerk. “Here, let me help you with those.” He relieved her of both paper bags and opened the door wider in invitation. “What are you doing here?”
“I, uh, just thought I’d bring you a few things. I mean, I felt so awful about what happened to you, and seeing as how it’s my fault and all… well, I thought the least I could do was stop by and bring some things to cheer you up.”
“That’s mighty thoughtful of you,” he commented, thinking that just the sight of her in that white, form-fitting sundress was enough to cheer him up. It accentuated the cornflower blue of her eyes and the delicate sheen of her golden hair, not to mention the womanly curves of her body. In this light, admiring her gentle swells of her hips and the fullness of her breasts, it was hard to believe that he’d mistaken her for a little girl only the night before.
And yet, there was something about her, an innocence of sorts, a fragility that made it easy to believe her much younger than her nineteen years. He saw it every time he looked at her, and it fascinated him. The only trouble was, his fascination both confused and shamed him, for reasons he couldn’t understand.
“Set them there, please,” Scarlett asked, pointing to his counter.
He was happy to oblige and as soon as he’d put them down she was behind him, moving around his small trailer as though she’d been there many times before. He stepped back and watched as she began to unpack the sacks.
“Chicken soup,” she said as she placed a large Tupperware container on the counter. “And orange juice. Oh, and I got you some magazines in case—”
“It’s a torn rotator cuff,” he scoffed. “Not a cold.”
“I know,” Scarlett said, ducking her head as if to avoid his eyes. “I was just trying to help.”
Colton felt like a jackass when he saw the embarrassed flush in her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Scarlett. My mama raised me better, but you wouldn’t know it, would you? What I
to say was thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, but she still looked unsure, so he moved toward her and put his hand on her arm.
Touching her had been exactly the wrong thing to do. Her skin seemed to sear his fingertips, making him yank his hand back. It didn’t matter—his fingers tingled where he’d touched her. “It was sweet of you to go to all this trouble. You shouldn’t have,” he said, trying to distract himself from the strange, excited thudding in his chest. This wasn’t like him.
“Well, I had to do
. After all, you wouldn’t be like this,” she gestured to his shoulder, “if it weren’t for me.”
“I appreciate it. Really, I do, but it’s about time to take my meds, and Oxy makes it hard to keep my eyes open, so…”
“Right. Well, I guess I’ll be going.”
“Sure. Thanks for stopping by.” Yet, when she made to move toward the door, he stepped in her path almost without thinking. “So, how did you know where to find me?”
“Oh.” She smiled faintly. “I came back this morning and asked around.”
“That was pretty gutsy, considering everything that happened.”
“You mean considering that I’m wearing your palm print on my ass?”
Colton was so startled by the casual way she brought it up that he laughed despite himself. This woman was full of surprises, it seemed. “Your mouth is much too pretty for those naughty words.”
“You think I’m pretty?” She batted her long, dark lashes at him in a seductive manner that was all woman. “Or just my mouth?”
“You don’t need me to tell you what you already know,” he chuckled. “I’m sure you got catcalled with every step you took to get to my trailer.”
“You know no one out here is up at this hour,” she laughed, shrugging her shoulders adorably.
Under normal circumstances, he would have chuckled right along with her, but something in her expression told him that she wasn’t taking him seriously. “Scarlett. You
know how pretty you are, don’t you?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She shrugged. “It’s kind of a father’s job to tell you you’re pretty and I’ve never had one.”
Colton’s brow creased as he looked at her. There was no way she was serious! She was nothing short of drop-dead gorgeous, yet in a way that was unique to any woman he’d ever seen before—and he’d seen plenty. “Your mom never told you?”
“She did, sometimes. I mean, I didn’t see her much, growing up. She had to work all the time. She always promised that when Brent graduated—that’s my brother—that we’d spend more time together, but…”
“She passed away,” he recalled, his heart aching for her. She was all-American, curvy, gorgeous woman one moment and vulnerable little girl the next. He didn’t know quite what to make of it, only that it touched his heart in a way that he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time—if he ever truly had.
“Yes. But I’m okay—really. Now, I should let you take your medicine. I know you’re probably in pain.”
“I really shouldn’t take them without eating. Are you hungry?”
“Oh.” Her eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Um, sure, I could eat.”
“Good thing I happen to have some fine chicken soup right here.”
“Actually, believe it or not…”
“What’s that, darlin’?” he asked, wondering at the deep stain in her cheeks. She sure did blush more than any woman he’d ever known. Not that he minded—it made her look even prettier, like a porcelain doll in a store window.
“I don’t really like chicken soup,” she confessed.
“Oh, is that all?” Colton tossed his head back and laughed, making her smile, too. “Well, then isn’t it lucky I know a place nearby? It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but they’ve got the best barbecue in town. Maybe in the state. You’ll be licking your fingers clean, I promise.”
When he winked at her, Scarlett felt her cheeks go even warmer. What was it about this man that made her incapable of going two minutes without blushing? “Okay. Let’s go.”
“You won’t regret it, I promise.”
She very much doubted that. On the one hand, while she wanted nothing more than to spend more time with him, she also knew that at the end of the day she didn’t have a chance in hell with a guy as amazingly hot as Colton. It would probably be best for the both of them if she just declined and went home, but she’d never been one for doing the smart, safe thing.
she thought as his hazel eyes crinkled around the edges as he looked at her.
If I’m gonna get my heart broken, at least I should enjoy myself for a little while first.
* * *
“No way,” Scarlett objected, shaking her head and grinning widely.
“I swear it,” Colton vowed. “That bull got handy every time he got near me. If bulls had hands, anyhow.”
“So you’re trying to tell me that this bull was
“You say it like it’s crazy. I mean, is that really so hard to believe?” He struck a pose and flexed his muscles.
Scarlett bit her lip and glanced away, but her eyes were drawn back seconds later, like moths to the flame. What a sight he made, the muscles in his arm rippling, the sunlight bouncing off his white cowboy hat and his eyes glittering at her. The way he made her pussy ache just by smiling at her, she could easily believe it.
“‘Scuse me, are y’all ready to place your drink orders yet?”
“Sure thing, darlin’. I’ll have an ice-cold Bud, and…”
“I’ll have a Coke,” Scarlett muttered, noticing how the waitress giggled when Colton winked at her.
“Have you had a chance to look at the menu? What are you thinkin’ of gettin’?” he asked, oblivious to her jealousy.
“I don’t know. Probably just French fries or something.”
“Breakfast of champions,” he remarked dryly, arching an eyebrow at her.
“It’s almost eleven,” she objected.
“Oh, yeah? And you had what for breakfast, exactly?”
She looked out the window, deliberately avoiding his eyes because she somehow knew that the doughnut she’d eaten before heading to the grocery store wouldn’t count in his opinion. “You’re the real deal, huh?” she said instead.
“You know. The whole boot-wearing, horse-riding, beer-swilling thing. That’s not an act for you, is it?”
“No, ma’am,” he drawled. “I don’t believe in pretending to be someone I’m not.”
“Then who are you?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could take them back. She hadn’t meant to come across so forward. Something about him made her unusually bold—maybe because she knew that she’d probably never see him again after today.
“No, that’s not fair. I asked you.”
“But you already know all that there is to know about me,” he chuckled.
“I don’t believe that. Not for a second.”
“You pretty much summed it up. Well, except that you forgot to mention my big belt buckle.”
“Is everything a joke to you?”
Before he could answer, the waitress returned with their drinks. She put the beer bottle in front of Colton and slid Scarlett’s Coke to her. “Okay, folks, what’ll it be?”
“I’m going to have the rack o’ ribs, with extra sauce on the side.”
“Original or spicy?”
“The spicier the better.”
Scarlett rolled her eyes. True, it seemed like he used that come-hither, seductive tone on anything that was female, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“And for you?” the waitress asked, clearly less than thrilled to take her order.
“Just an order of fries, please,” she muttered.
“And,” Colton continued, speaking over her, “she’ll have the grilled chicken salad. Thank you.”
“What was that?” she demanded, folding her arms across her chest once the waitress had gone to put their orders in.
“You asked me if everything is a joke to me. As it happens, I take health very seriously, and you don’t look like you’ve had a good meal in the last decade.”
“What, are you my daddy now?” she snapped, still put off with his flirting.